DHML 2024: ACT-ION! ACT for Indigenous Outcomes Now!

After a break in 2023, ANTaR ACT’s annual lecture returned in 2024 with the theme of ACT-ION! ACT for Indigenous Outcomes Now!

In anticipation of the October 2024 elections in the ACT, the David Hunter Memorial Lecture (DHML) 2024 highlighted the need for urgent action from both the government and the community to improve outcomes for First Nations people.

This note outlines and paraphrases the content of the 2024 DHML. See the recording for the full content, available through YouTube.

The DHML 2024 MC was Valerie Albrecht, who has a long association with ANTaR, in Queensland, Western Australia and the ACT, and has been working for First Peoples for many years, with a focus on health and wellbeing.

Selina Walker welcomed all to Ngunnawal country, acknowledging her grandmother, Aunty Agnes, who knew David Hunter and had given the Welcome to Country at many previous lectures. Selina also reflected on the context, after the referendum – not the outcome they sought, but leading to truth telling, which is part of the reconciliation journey.

Panelists comments

Kim Davison is the Executive Director of Gugan Gulwan Youth Aboriginal Corporation, and about to leave that position. In her comments, she reflected on her experience of Gugan Gulwan, working with the kids who are the future.

While community are busy fighting each other, they are not focussed on the real fight. There is a need for leadership, for all to come together for their community.

Government are creating disharmony. Initiatives such as co-design are not genuine, and are not about what the community wants.

There is a devaluing of the community worker on the ground.

Every child belongs to a family and needs connection to family. She would like to see residential care abolished altogether – kids are not loved there.

She would also like to see more community focussed plans in schools – families need a roof over their heads and food on the table for children to thrive at school.

Kim talked about the stress and burnout she has been going through. After her role ends, she will rest and then be back – will keep fighting for the kids.

Julie Tongs OAM is the Chief Executive Officer of Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services, a role she has been in since 1997.

Julie said Canberra is the incarceration capital – this is a progressive community but the statistics show the other side.

Drug addiction is a health issue, a response to issues, but they are still waiting for a residential drug and alcohol facility, as promised 14 years ago.

The ACT government has only just appointed a reviewer to examine Indigenous incarceration rates, years after this was promised. Jumbunna Institute to lead ACT government’s review of high Indigenous incarceration rates – ABC News

Government services have an expectation that everyone has a car, a phone, and money for sporting and school requirements – but this is not the case from what she sees.

Community priorities would be to restore Boomanulla Oval, have the residential Bush Healing Farm, and address housing issues.

They need the government to not just trust them and provide the necessary resources but to listen to them.

Selina Walker is a kinship carer, founding member of Yerrabi Yurwang Child and Family Aboriginal Corporation and the 2024 ACT Local Hero.

She talked about the gaps in services she sees – in education, care and protection and justice and community services. As a kinship carer, she has felt disrespected by teachers and government services. Accountability goes both ways.

From her experience, people are the problem. There is racism in schools – for example, inappropriate comments from teachers. Important to teach people about culture.

Selina shared three analogies:

  • When asked to explain connection to country, she says it is like an amputated limb – even if not there, can still feel it, part of them.
  • There is a need for services to be a hexagon. Aboriginal people are a square peg in a society that is a round hole. Change is possible – during covid, everyone had to change and become a triangle. Now there is a need for services to become a hexagon, so can meet the needs of everyone, whether square, round or triangle.
  • Regarding differences, think of a Maccas drive thru – there are two lanes, same outcome, neither is right or wrong, just different. Doing things in different ways, one Aboriginal, one non-Indigenous, should be like that – just different, not better or worse.

Questions for the panellists (selection)

A questioner asked about Boomanulla Oval. All the panellists had reflected on the importance of Boomanulla Oval for the community and their experiences there in the past. Now it is managed by the ACT Government and community need to ask permission to access it.

In response to questions about their priorities, the panellists were passionate in agreeing that, although there a number of pressing issues, the most critical priority for them is to see the ACT Government immediately pass control of the Boomanualla Oval to the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

Kim said it would mean everything to get back community control of Boomanulla Oval. Julie noted it got into trouble as it was never resourced properly – the government had asked Winnunga to tender to run it, but then they were told “No”. Without the oval, there is nowhere the community can all come together. There would also be the mental health benefits of exercise and sport.

Two questioners followed up on the comments about the support kids need to get through school – maybe a scholarship. Julie talked about the challenges people faced and the importance of getting kids educated – kids are resilient and smart, but are being pushed down – then they end up in the justice system. Kim talked about some of the work Gugan Gulwan do to support kids to have what they need for school, but also the need for more support, including expenses with getting kids into sports.

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